The Picky Eater

Ellyn Satter
July 2, 2010

All children are more-or-less picky about food. What they eat one day, they don't the next. They eat a lot one day, little the next. They don't eat some of everything that is on the table, but only one or two foods. They warm up slowly to unfamiliar foods and may have to see, watch you eat, touch or taste a food 15 or 20 (or even more) times before they learn to like it.

However, your child may be especially cautious about new food. She may only, ever, eat her favorite foods, get upset when she sees unfamiliar food, cry and whine at mealtimes, or worry about being unable to eat away from home. 

Your cautious child can learn to like new food, but 1) you must do a good job with feeding and 2) it takes a while. Maintain a division of responsibility: You do the what, when and where of feeding and she does the how much and whether of eating. Provide regular, repeated, and unpressured opportunities to learn. That means the food matter-of-factly shows up again and again on your family table and you eat and enjoy it. Teach her to behave nicely at the table and to say "No, thank you" rather than "YUK." For your part, take no for an answer. Do not pressure her in any way to eat, and don't let other grownups do it, either. Do not remind, badger, reward, applaud, or withhold dessert until she eats her vegetables-or anything else.

Don't try to get your child to accept more food, and don't trick her into eating. That will make her pickier. Instead, to keep her from being picky-or to address her pickiness once it gets started:  

  • Get started with family meals, if you aren't having them already. Be family-friendly with feeding. Don't short-order cook or limit the menu to foods your child can readily accept.
  • Provide your child with sit-down snacks so she can come to the table hungry but not famished.
  • Pair unfamiliar with familiar food, not-yet-liked with liked foods, then let her pick and choose from what you put on the table.
  • Teach your child to use her napkin to get food back out of her mouth when she discovers she doesn't want to swallow. (Teach yourself this trick, as well. It will make you braver about trying new food!)

Copyright © 2010 by Ellyn Satter. Published at For more about helping children learn to do well with eating (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008. Also see to purchase books and to review other resources.

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